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Confocal microscopy

Confocal microscopy is an optical imaging technique used to increase micrograph contrast and/or to reconstruct three-dimensional images by using a spatial pinhole to eliminate out-of-focus light or flare in specimens that are thicker than the focal plane.[1] This technique has been gaining popularity in the scientific and industrial communities. Typical applications include life sciences and semiconductor inspection.

Basic concept

The principle of confocal imaging was patented by Marvin Minsky in 1957.[2] In a conventional (i.e., wide-field) fluorescence microscope, the entire specimen is flooded in light from a light source. Due to the conservation of light intensity transportation, all parts of the specimen throughout the optical path will be excited and the fluorescence detected by a photodetector or a camera. In contrast, a confocal microscope uses point illumination and a pinhole in an optically conjugate plane in front of the detector to eliminate out-of-focus information. Only the light within the focal plane can be detected, so the image quality is much better than that of wide-field images. As only one point is illuminated at a time in confocal microscopy, 2D or 3D imaging requires scanning over a regular raster (i.e. a rectangular pattern of parallel scanning lines) in the specimen. The thickness of the focal plane is defined mostly by the square of the numerical aperture of the objective lens, and also by the optical properties of the specimen and the ambient index of refraction.


Three types of confocal microscopes are commercially available: Confocal laser scanning microscopes, spinning-disk (Nipkow disk) confocal microscopes and Programmable Array Microscopes (PAM). yields better image quality but the imaging frame rate is very slow (less than 3 frames/second); spinning-disk confocal microscopes can achieve video rate imaging—a desirable feature for dynamic observations such as live cell imaging.


  1. ^ Pawley JB (editor) (2006). Handbook of Biological Confocal Microscopy, 3rd ed., Berlin: Springer. ISBN 038725921x. 
  2. ^ US patent 3013467
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Confocal_microscopy". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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